OG Soundoff: Risk Legacy

OG Soundoff gives our cast of crazies the chance to weigh in with their opinions on a topic of interest in the world of gaming.  This time, our columnists will discuss what they think about Hasbro’s newly announced Risk Legacy.

For those of you who haven’t heard about this game, in mid-August, Hasbro gave us a preview of the latest title in their Risk lineup.  Created by talented veteran designer Rob Daviau and newcomer Chris Dupuis, it will be called Risk Legacy in the States and Risiko Evolution in the rest of the world (presumably, the Legacy title is being used because of the potential contentiousness of using the word “evolution” in a mainstream American design).  The big twist in the design is that the players will permanently alter their copy of the game from session to session.  Depending on what happens, stickers will be put on territories to show new terrain and the formation of cities, which will continue to be there in every game played with that copy.  Cards will be altered or even destroyed.  The game also will come with sealed envelopes that contain new components and rules to be triggered when certain game conditions are met.  The end result is that the game will evolve over time based on the players’ decisions.  It also means that no two copies of Risk Legacy will wind up being the same.

So what does everybody think of this idea?  Is it inspired genius or just a gimmick?  Is it a game you intend to play, to own, or to avoid?

Larry Levy:  Let me begin by saying that I applaud Hasbro for coming up with this unique and innovative idea.  I fully expect the game will sell well and have many devoted followers.  Unfortunately, I won’t be one of them.

The problem isn’t the source game.  There are a number of games of conquest that I enjoy and there’s no reason why a souped-up Risk wouldn’t be one of them.  Rather, it’s the new design’s basic concept that doesn’t fit my gamer profile.

First of all, this is clearly a game that will work best if played by the same group of players (or at least a fairly small rotation).  I currently play with about 20 gamers and switch off opponents from game to game.  The odds of getting the same group to play this one game repeatedly is quite remote.  There’s also the fact that the new Risk will have to be played a minimum of 15 times (and probably more like 20) in order for it to reach its full potential.  Many of the new games I play don’t even get to 5 plays and even the most popular ones struggle to get to 10 sessions.  I can see this game working for many groups, but not for mine.

There are other, even more fundamental issues.  I’m a rules junkie and like to read the rules for a new game from cover to cover before playing for the first time.  It may seem silly, but the fact that I wouldn’t know most of the details of this game prior to play would really bug me.  In essence, Daviau and Dupuis are asking me to trust their design abilities while I commit to half a dozen plays before I get to the good stuff.  I’m not saying I’d never do that, but it tends to run counter to my personal gaming DNA.  Another point is that the coolness factor of having a game change over time is largely lost on me.  I get plenty of variety in my gaming, but when it comes to individual designs, I prefer a stationary target.  It’s hard enough figuring out strategies on a static game, without having to worry about things being different every time.  Finally, one of the real joys of gaming is that I not only get to talk about the designs with the people I play with, but with the entire extended gaming community as well.  Obviously, this will be impossible for Risk Legacy, as people will be discouraged from discussing details of the later games, lest they spoil it for others.  Moreover, it would be pointless to swap strategies and such, since each individual game will be different from all the rest.

I will certainly follow the reception this game receives and will be interested in whatever details get released.  But this will be more like curiousity over a unique gaming project rather than any desire to actually play it.  Risk Legacy may well turn out to be something revolutionary, but the revolution will take place without me.

Dale Yu: Color me interested.  I’m actually passive about the whole Risk thing – I still play the basic version with my kids from time to time as it’s one of their favorite games.  But, honestly, I could kind of take it or leave it.  I am acutely interested, though, in the idea of the constantly evolving game.  I think it’s a wonderful way to explore a game.  I have spoken with one of the designers, Rob Daviau, over email in the past few months, and he’s said that you’ll see some changes after 2 or 3 plays, but will need 5 or 6 to really form a “unique” Risk universe with your set, and 10+ to get it really good.  I look forward to seeing how the cards and board can be altered and how much gameplay will change as cards are altered, or added/removed from the game entirely.  I’m sure that it’ll be hard to deal with at first, but I promise to take video of the first time that I rip a card into shreds – thus removing it from my game forever.

I’m in a pretty stable game group right now, so this sort of game will work just fine — we often have the same three guys each week playing games, so there will be a certain level of continuity that Risk: Legacy seems to need in order to succeed.  Now… will I play it 10+ times?  Who knows – but I’ll admit that there aren’t many games these days that hit double digit plays. But, I do look forward to seeing how the game changes and evolves as we play it.  That is certainly something that will be unique in my game collection.

Mark Jackson: My reaction is similar to Dale’s reaction. My 10 year old son & his best friend are constant opponents of mine – and the idea that we get to create a world from game to game appeals to their gamer sensibilities honed on Toontown & Lego Universe.

My hope is that there will be some sort of extra packs to add to the game down the line – though if you’re getting 10+ plays from a boardgame purchase, I certainly think you’re getting your money’s worth.

Brian Leet: We don’t usually think of innovation in design coming from larger companies. So, right off the bat I’m impressed that this is a product developed by the largest player in the U.S. games market. On that merit alone I’m terribly interested in giving this design a shot. Beyond that we get into all of our speculative opinions on how the game will play, and how the evolution of the play experience over multiple games will shape our enjoyment.

What little background I can bring to imagining the play of this concept suggests it could be very successful. The original publication of Magic the Gathering of course had ante rules as a key part of every game. When I first started playing in ‘93 that is exactly how we would play it. The tension of wondering what card you might risk, and then playing through a game to claim your prize was significant. Even after it became no longer the custom to play strangers for ante, we still would set up our own small tournaments where two players would split a collection at random, build decks and then play many games for ante such that you may find it advisable to reconstruct your deck after a win or loss to reflect your new cards. A sort of extended version of the old card “game” war.

Of course, this process took a week or more to play out, during a period in my life when I had far more time for gaming. If Risk Legacy can capture any significant part of that tension and mystery I think it will be a success for me. As a last thought I also recall that as a pre-teen and teenager Risk was exactly the sort of game which invited house rules of all sorts. I can see this as added fodder for young players with the time and imagination to continually re-fight the same battles on a slowly changing landscape.

Matt Carlson:  Man, I am so the target audience of this game, if it came out a few decades ago.  I’m not averse to a bit of lightweight conflict/wargaming, and I simply adore tech trees and developing civilizations and strategies over time.  However, my current gaming life is fairly sporadic and I know I simply won’t have the time (or choose to take the time) to enjoy this game to its full extent.  Back in my college or high school days I might have been able to scrape up enough consecutive gaming sessions with friends to give this game a good workout.  My only hope is for the future, about 4 or 5 years from now when I could start playing this game as a family game with my two sons.  Sure, the OCD in me shudders at slowly “destroying” the game over time but it may prove particularly freeing.  If I can get past the OCD issue, I don’t foresee too much of a problem with replayability.  If I can get in a dozen or two games of Risk Legacy in, I’ll still be better off than many/most of the games I own.  Kudos to Hasbro for trying something “risky”, while I’m not sure I want to see too many games go down the “destructible”/modifiable path, I think trying it out on the Risk line of games is a good choice.  I agree that “reviewing” such a game may be tricky (can you really review how satisfying the ending of the game will be – will it still be decent and/or balanced after a half-dozen plays?), but that doesn’t factor into my decision on whether the game is a “good” one or not.

Tom Rosen:  I am deeply ambivalent about Risk Legacy.  On the one hand, it sounds awesome.  On the other hand, it sounds like an OCD nightmare.  This new-fangled Risk sounds awesome because the idea of a game that evolves over time is very exciting.  A game that changes based on your previous experiences seems like something that could really bring a group back again and again to fully explore the game.  In reality, I’m skeptical of whether Risk Legacy will really pull-off anything resembling what gamers and myself are expecting given that it likely will be fairly simplistic.  I doubt it will really customize itself to quite the degree and in quite the interesting ways that we might expect.  But in theory, the concept is very intriguing and would seem to open up tons of potential.  However, applying permanent stickers to things and destroying components to remove them from the game is also something that has got to give a few of us the jitters.  Given the number of people on the Geek who won’t even throw out useless box inserts or unnecessary expansion boxes, I have trouble imagining those same folks permanently altering game components.  In the end, we don’t really know enough to say for sure, but the idea of Risk Legacy alone merits the buzz and anticipation as we ponder not only what the game might be, but where the concept might go.

Jeff Allers:  From a game design perspective, it certainly sounds intriguing, and I join my colleagues in applauding the effort of the designers.  The idea of a board game that changes over time is both fresh and appealing to me.  And the original Risk still holds a sentimental place in my collection, as it was the first board game to which I was ever addicted.

However appealing the concept may be, I also have several reservations.  The idea of using stickers to change the board is clunky, and destroying cards—while dramatic—seems gimmicky.  The mechanics would obviously work much better as a digital game, which is surely the inspiration for Risk: Legacy. In fact, this is standard fair for computer games, which often create scenarios that change over time as you keep coming back to play them. Trying to implement the idea as a board game may be honorable, but I am not certain that these components/mechanics are the most elegant way to handle the design problem.

For example, why not use magnetic sheets and a magnetic board instead of stickers?  This would solve several issues.  First, when playing with a different group for the first time, one could “reset “ the game for that group, recording the outcome in case that group returned to the game in the future.  The players could “save” their game, much the way one does with a computer game.  Second, it would allow players to explore different paths of evolution from the same starting point, something computer game players also enjoy doing.  When I was a kid, I had a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books, and I enjoyed reading through a story, seeing where my choices led, then starting the book over and making different choices that led to a different outcome. Postmodern films like Sliding Doors explore this fascination with alternate realities, and I’ve heard that the game, 1001 Arabian Nights plays the same way.  I would prefer to be able to explore one path of evolution in a game, and then start from “0” again and explore another path.   Don’t destroy the cards—store them away for the next evolutionary tree.

Finally, pasting on (or sticking on) a new concept to an aging bestseller limits the design potential.  We have been lauding Hasbro for taking a chance with innovation, but ultimately, it’s not really a risk-y business move, and they’ve hamstrung themselves by forcing innovation on an old, reliable brand.

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26 Responses to OG Soundoff: Risk Legacy

  1. If it were me, I would adhere the sticker to a piece of thin cardboard (like an empty 12-pack soda case), cut it out, and just set the new “tile” where it belongs each time I played. And instead of physically destroying a card, I’d put it into an envelope marked “destroyed pieces”.

    On the “replayable as is” vs “must buy more to keep it fresh” balance, this is the worst of both worlds. When you replay it, the game would be slightly different but still mostly the same. Yet if you ever wanted to reset the changes, you’d have to buy a whole new copy if the changes were permanent.

    Maybe Hasbro will release just the replacement board by itself, but I’m not holding my breath. Look forward to having to buy all new pieces, dice, rulebook, etc just to reset the board.

  2. Rob Daviau says:

    This was an interesting read. It is a tricky game to review from just its concept because we’ve purposely kept parts of the design as surprises. We went off in uncharted waters for much of this. I’m curious to read reviews in the next few months to see where we went right…and went wrong.

    – Rob Daviau

  3. paul ridout says:

    Great reviews guys . I think ;eff’s ides about reusable magnetic parts to be a great improvement. Interesting concept

  4. Jason says:

    Matt C. said: “I think trying it out on the Risk line of games is a good choice.”

    I’d argue this is the most significant point made here. I don’t see this concept really working with most games – but with Risk already modified over the years by thousands of players with their own house rules and with its accessibility in ease of play and brand name, I think it’s perfect for this title. And “we” are not their target audience, but instead mainstream, casual, family gamers. Sure, Hasbro certainly hopes to and expects to sell the game to SOME of us hobby gamers. But at the same time I would think they’re not as concerned with OCD and limited play sessions because those issues are not really a consideration for the average family home (at least in America, Hasbro’s market).

  5. Pete says:

    To the first guy with the “cardboard” tokens thing, you’re totally out of your mind. The game is different because CHOICES MATTER, long-term. The idea of trying to preserve the game, not write on it…all that bullshit…it’s antithetical to the point. I get the hesitance: play it a couple of times to see if you like it, otherwise trade it, but having it written on makes it basically worthless as trade fodder. Forget about that. If you like Risk, get it. If you NEVER liked Risk, pass on it because this likely won’t get you into Dudes on a Map games.

    Dale: We need to play this, brother. Get your local OGs together, give me a call. One of the designers is a buddy and he’s sending a copy for review, and this one’s going to need more than my usual 3 plays to truly get a grip on what the “permanent change” aspect really adds or detracts from it.

    So far, love what I see, but that’s coming from a Dudes on a Map fan.

  6. jeffinberlin says:

    Yes, Rob, I was initially hesitant to write critically, as I’m not too keen on “reviews” of my games from people who have not even played them (or only played them one time). I hope everyone else reads this as an interesting discussion on the concept, and not a review of your game, as that would be completely unfair. We wouldn’t have all chimed in if we did not think the game idea was worth it.

    I hope it is successful for you, especially if it opens the door for you to experiment further with the medium.

  7. Pete says:

    Oh, and I should note that it’s irrelevant who you play with. You don’t need the same group over and over. The game is persistent irrespective of who plays it, but it has more to do with the map itself than the factions, so anyone can pick up and play at any time.

  8. huzonfirst says:

    By the way, according to Rob, the concept behind permanently altering the game is that it encourages players to go “all in” by making irreversible changes. The idea is to make these changes seem more real and more meaningful by not allowing them to be undone. That argument is largely lost on me, but I recognize that I’m probably in the minority. Enough people have enthusiastically embraced this concept, for this very reason, that I think that the specific implementation of permanent alteration is exactly what will sell people on this game.

  9. If you cut your dick off and throw it in the fireplace, it’s an irreversible change. You have to think long and hard about doing so if you know that once your dick is in the fireplace, roasting away like a Ball Park frank, it’s gone forever.

    If you just PRETENDED to cut it off, and instead of cutting it off, you took a picture of it and put it in an envelope marked “Potentially Removed Dicks” it’s certainly not the same, both in fact or in concept, as actually cutting your dick off and roasting it. You have to think a lot harder about actually doing it, and have to really think about your motivation in doing so.

    So you see, as much as one would like to pretend that making a decision that results in a destroyed card (where the card is actually thrown away) is as meaningful as actually destroying it, you’re absolutely wrong. It’s not so much the act as the teeth gnashing decision leading up to knowing it’s gone, and gone for good.

    There’s another aspect, too. If you name a city “ChucksABitchburg” because you whipped your buddy Chuck’s ass in the last game, there’s a permanent reminder to Chuck that not only was he beaten, his defeat is forever remembered in Chucksabitchburg at the “Chuck’s A Bitch Memorial” in the center of town. What other game delivers that kind of motivation to play again? I mean, how much does Chuck want to win and name a city “JacksMomMadeMeBreakfastAfterwardville” in revenge?

  10. jeffinberlin says:

    This argument coming from someone who doesn’t sign his name to his post?

    Besides that, it’s unnecessarily crass and distracts from both the game and the discussion.

  11. Ryan Kelley says:

    One thing no one has mentioned yet is the fact that this game will be the “property ” of one gamer. How is that guy gonna feel when his best bud makes the choice that ends in the destruction of one of his cards?
    I know that sounds like a criticism, but I am very excited about this concept and to see how it plays out!

  12. It’s point on, be it crass or not. The fact is that when you undertake a decision, especially one that is permanent and unalterable after the fact, you weigh it far more heavily than you would otherwise. By not sacking up and doing what the game explicitly tells you to do, the game is weakened because the decisions within the game are thus able to be taken far more lightly. Just to save a couple bucks. Seems completely ridiculous to me.

    The argument is in-your-face crass for a reason. It’s to illustrate, in a way that anyone can understand, that decisions that are absolutely permanent and those made that are reversible command an entirely different mind-set going into them.

    ~ PETE RUTH, http://www.superflycircus.blogspot.com.

    Want my email address too, Jack?

  13. Paul Owen says:

    I don’t think I have ever seen a game concept stir up so much controversy before it was even published. I first read about this game on Lewis Pulsipher’s blog (http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2011/09/risk-legacy.html), where he dismissed Risk: Legacy as purely an exercise in destruction and possibly cynical marketing. My take on it wasn’t quite so disdainful (http://paulowengames.blogspot.com/2011/09/legacy-constructive-or-destructive.html), but in the final analysis I decided this probably isn’t my cup of tea.

    But ultimately, another point made in some previous comments bears repeating: Nobody here except the designer and playtesters has even played this game. All we have to go on is Hasbro’s pre-release description. So all reviews to date come with an enormous caveat that says, “well, I haven’t actually played it yet, but…”

    In any event, the concept certainly has stirred up a lot of discussion (and publicity), so I’m eager to see how it bears out in actual gameplay.

  14. Change the Board, don’t change the board. Who cares? It’s still risk.I wouldn’t even spend the time updating the board after the first game, because after I played for hours on end, I come to my senses, and remember: This is Risk, why the hell am I playing it again? Then there would be no need to change the board, as it’ll take 10 years to forget why I stopped playing it the last time. By then they’ll be “Yet Another Different But Same Risk 2021″, and it’ll actually be 2021.

  15. Paul Owen says:

    Well, I’ll be a son of a gun.

    By the way, back to your original point, Pete, I completely agree that when gameplay decisions have permanent post-game consequences, you make them a little more carefully. Shoot, in some games, I agonize over whether to use the original score sheets or make copies. I can’t imagine how I’d feel about making a decision that permanently modified my copy (or someone else’s) for the life of that copy.

    That phenomenon is an interesting variation on a conversation that happened during the “Ethics in Gaming” seminar at WBC this year. Someone observed that for some people, how you treat people in the course of playing a game (lying, betrayal, etc) has no bearing on your relationship outside the game. But for other people, or for certain over-the-line cases, what you do in a game can have lasting relationship ramifications long after the game is back in the box.

    http://paulowengames.blogspot.com/2011/08/ethics-in-gaming-reflections-on-wbc.html

  16. Pete says:

    Chapel, this isn’t your average Risk game. It’s a lot less like Risk in some ways that I would’ve ever thought. There’s a lot of aspects here to take into consideration, such as the fact that you can buff territories over time, add cities over time, and do other things that I’m not going to spoil the fun with.

    The short version is that this isn’t the normal “kill everything” game that Risk is supposed to be. It’s far shorter due to having alternative paths to a win, and there are long term rewards for both the winner as well as anyone who manages to NOT get eliminated over the span of a game.

    Finally, there are fewer territories in the game to begin with, so it’s not a long, drawn out affair, generally speaking. I’m sure it could be, but it’s not the norm, I think.

    It retains what makes Risk what it is, but it has such a different feel and MUCH different mechanics than I expected, with unique factions that have their own thematic powers, re-roll mechanics, and the most interesting thing I’ve seen in a long time, REAL exploration. As you play, you explore the game’s potential. Until you do X, an entire WAVE of new features and win conditions don’t come into play.

    It’s staggering in potential. I’ve not looked into any of the secret envelopes yet, since I’ve played only once, but the potential for something absolutely new and exciting has me thrilled to play again. And that’s NEVER happened with the Risk franchise, since of all the Dudes on a Map games, I think Risk the hands-down weakest aside from Fortress America.

  17. Ryan B. says:

    I think it is a good concept and just want everyone to consider for a moment that the target audience is going to be the family who spies the game in Wal-mart or Target more than likely. For them, this should be a cool, fantastic take on the game.

    I started in on owning all the variations of Risk too about seven years ago because we never could afford it when I was a child. But after having even acquired “Castle Risk” for awhile, I have found that other games like Conquest of the Empire and Shogun (Ikusa) do it better. I can rarely get DOAM games to the table because we have (or should I say “had” now that I am living in Seattle) a high number of couples and females at our game nights. DOAM games are typically a “getting the boys together” experience. At least for me.

    But for all of those teens out there who like Risk or many others who haven’t been exposed to too much outside of retail market chain games… this will be very cool. I applaud Rob and Chris in a BIG way for getting out there and exploring new boundaries in game design.

  18. As someone who’s written a Risk game, I think this is the greatest idea anyone’s ever had for the line. I can’t wait to play it.

  19. Pete says:

    Ryan:
    1. If DoaM games are flopping at Game Night, try a game like Survive: Escape From Atlantis. Girls LOVE that game as much as boys do. Caveman too, but it’s a little more touch and go – either love it or hate it.

    2. Risk Legacy will be sold in game stores through the Wizards/AH distribution model, not Wally World. At least at this point.

  20. Ryan B. says:

    Pete,

    I purposely don’t even try to bring out DoaM games when it is a couples gathering… which it is about 95% of the time. I don’t consider “Survive: Escape From Atlantis” as a DoaM game more so than what I see the game as: a family game. So yes, it already makes apprearances at the game table. : )

    Or will, I guess I should say, when I make some new friends up here in WA. Cheers.

  21. Pete Ruth says:

    There’s LOTS of gamers up there, Ryan. Lots. I, personally, have 4-5 really good friends up there, several of which go to GenCon annually as our big “hangout” session. Shouldn’t be hard, brother.

  22. I’m not opposed to irreversibility altogether. I just find unnecessary irreversibility … unnecessary.

    The metaphor comparing the shredding of a card to physical mutilation is way overboard. None of the changes to the game are unalterably permanent, even if you do write on the board or destroy pieces. Why not? Because you can just buy a new copy of the game.

    And that’s my point: why should you have to buy a new copy of the game to undo a choice poorly made, or to explore how the game would play differently with various combinations of changes? With two or three tiny precautions, the irreversibility built into this game can be avoided.

  23. Pete Ruth says:

    But again, the notion that a decision that doesn’t really have consequences is equivalent to a decision that has real consequences is fallacious. The fact that once you’ve made a decision, it’s permanent, is the real game-changer (both literally and figuratively). Sure, you could do things to mitigate the changes. Spray the board with acrylic and use dry-erase markers. Glue waxed paper to the faction cards. Have territory cards laminated so stickers don’t stick permanently.

    But knowing that you can “load saved game” and go back makes the decision less important. More trivial. And that’s what the design seems to want to avoid. The decisions are real, and they affect this world forever.

    I think all this angst from so many people about a game they’ve never played, with components they’ve never seen, and decisions that they don’t understand the scope of is armchair quarterbacking of the highest order, really. Once the game releases, you’re going to see a sea of positive reviews, with the only bitch being that people are marring their “Precious”. It’s 40$ or whatever. Get over it. People spend more than that on On Demand movies they watch once. More than that on coffee. This is being way overblown by a bunch of OCD freaks that sleeve all their shit and own game vaults to keep the relative humidity at a constant 30% to avoid warping.

    Give me a break. I’m one of the few that owns the game, and I have no qualms about changing the cards, unlocking new stuff, and adding cities. I keep all of my games in pristine shape, bagging and sorting meticulously. And I don’t mind doing the changes because it’s part of the game. It’s not unnecessary, it’s absolutely CRITICAL.

  24. Paul Owen says:

    Hey, Pete, remember, I agree that your point about the immutability of decisions – that they change the very nature of the game – is perfectly valid. But bear in mind that for some of us, maintaining the physical quality of the game has its own kind of value. And those are people who have perfectly valid feelings about their games … and therefore probably shouldn’t buy this one. It’s perfectly legitimate to keep cards in sleeves and make copies of score sheets to minimize wear and tear and maintain replayability. So if your point is that those people shouldn’t buy this game, I agree with you. But if you’re trying to contend that preserving a game’s original physical configuration is an OCD phenomenon, then I have to tell you to get over it. Some people like to keep their games the way they bought them.

    For my part, I actually think that wear and tear on a game is a sign of how much you like a game. I have a number of games I refer to as “well-loved,” meaning I’ve played them so much that they’re beat to shreds. I have a few others that are in very good condition because I just don’t play them that often. So for me, I don’t so much worry about card sleeves and box corners.

    I guess I’m just trying to say that a lot of people are going to love this game the way you do, because it brings game-decision consequences to a whole new level. But other people aren’t going to like the paradigm shift – and that’s okay, too.

  25. Cedric says:

    Old thread, but Magic the Gathering did it first. The original rules had ante, so any card you put in your deck could be lost, irrevocably altering it. Of course you didn’t actually *destroy* your game components, so that aspect is new, and perhaps psychologically tortuous to the OCD folks. Considering the horrible path Monopoly has taken with its “variant” games (viz. Yet-Another-License-opoly), and that Risk could fall into the same trap (IIRC, Risk has two versions each of Star Wars and LotR), Risk Legacy, at least, is a variant for the gamer, not the licensee collector. Besides, when you’re “done” with the game, the game pieces can be used in any 15mm sf wargame, and the container makes a fine, if not waterproof, lunchbox.

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